246 VERDICT OX INDIA
that ravages hi^ crops, poisons his soil and destroys, year after k
year, his most patient efforts to drag himself a few inches above
the level of slavery, is an exceptionally virulent insect known as
the "banya/ Banya is Hindu for mor^ey-lender and a nastier
specimen of blood-sucker will not be found in the whole insect
kingdom. You find him in every village, demanding his pounds of
flesh from bodies already so weakened that they could scarcely
spare an ounce. The money-lender is the real owner of the Indian
land ; generations of indebtedness have placed the peasants in a
tragic position where the combined labour of their families is only
just sufficient to meet the interest on transactions so ancient that
they are lost in the mists of history. £It is estimated that the
farmers of India pay more to the money-lender by way of interest
than to the Government as taxes. The average rate is 35 per cent
per annum on a compound basis; 50 per cent is common and
sometimes 75 per cent is charged.'1
This is an abuse that we should have eradicated at all costs.
We have only trifled with it. In the Punjab, legislation has re-
stricted the rate of interest on unsecured debts to 18 per cen£
and the Provincial Ministry in Madras passed a Rural Indebted-
$ess Act which was admirably designed. Otherwise the situation,
stands much as, it has stood for many centuries.
There are three main stumbling blocks in the path of those who
wish to eliminate the banya.
The first is—as usual—vested interests. There are big men
behind the banyas ; they arc sitting pretty, and they will be sitting
even prettier if the British leave. The second is administrative;
an army of inspectors with widespread powers of search and
inquiry will be needed to see that any reforms which may be
passed are actually carried out. The third is the traditional
lethargy and elive-for-the-moment% character of the peasant him-
self. Some may find physical reasons for this lethargy ; others may
attribute it to the Hindu doctrine of Karma, which can be twisted
to mean more or less anything the believer wants, and is the best
excuse yet invented by man for avoiding the unpleasant realities!
of the passing hour. Whatever the reason, the peasant must tJfe
1 The Story of India, by F. K. Moraes (Noble Publishing House, Bombay).